Seventh Annual Hindu Mandir Executives Conference (HMEC) – 2012
Over 350 adult and youth delegates representing over 102 Mandirs (Temples) and Hindu organizations, from across the world, attended the seventh annual Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC), from August 17 through 18, 2012 in San Jose, CA. The Seventh HMEC was hosted by the Fremont Temple and 22 other co-hosts temples from around the Bay Area in California. Participants came from all across the United States, Canada, India, Trinidad and New Zealand. Addressing the participants by video-conference, Swami Dayananda Saraswati said, “This get-together is bound to create better bonds and good networking among the people connected to the Hindu Mandirs in America.”
The conference was a result of over ten months of preparation by a national team and an enthusiastic host team in the Bay Area led by Dr. Umesh Shukla, Dr. Romesh Japra and Rajesh Verma. The program consisting of over 25 sessions and 100 speakers & moderators was meticulously composed by a national program committee led by Sant Gupta and Govind Pasumarthi.
“I would like to commend HMEC for conducting perhaps the best seminar of its type that I have ever attended,” says Robert Arnett, author of India Unveiled. “Speakers provided a wealth of information on a wide array of subjects that were both informative and useful. But what impressed me the most was the spirit of unity and harmony that prevailed throughout the entire conference. Everyone seemed keen on supporting each other’s goals, rather than the usual in-fighting and personal agendas found at most conferences. I actually was sad to see the conference come to an end, and know that I left having made several friends for life.”
A record fifteen sadhus and sadhvis (initiated monks) attended the gathering. The conference was inaugurated by Swamini Svatmavidyananda Ji who effortlessly weaves humor into her speech calling Hindu Dharma the Universal Dharma. She said, “it (Hindu Dharma) is there in every heart, regardless of whether we went to Sunday school, balavihar, or whatever, it is there.” The editor of Hinduism Today, a prominent Hindu magazine, Paramacharya Palaniswami extolled the tolerance of Hindu Dharma when he told the audience that, “Hindus are intolerant of one thing; we can’t tolerate intolerance.” Sadhvi Bhagawati said that, “Dharma is not like fossils or ancient archeological remains, Dharma is not history, it’s alive it is in the present.” Swami Nikhilanand of Radhamadhav Dham, Austin, shared his thoughts on the educational curriculum for mandirs and also his Kirtan.
Temples and Temple Administration
Mandir issues were at the forefront of the discussion. Swami Mukundananda of J.K. Yog, emphasized the mission of mandirs, “It is important to educate about spiritual greatness and Vedic knowledge. It’s mandir’s responsibility to instill pride.” HAF’s Sunil Shukla charged the temples to be more relevant to the Hindu community and to all communities, whereas, Senthilanathaswami urged the temple trustees to resist contention amongst themselves. A special topic covered legal liabilities that can impact mandir executives and how to ensure that the executives are protected. Fred Stella, representing the Self Realization Fellowship emphasized the virtues of saatvik, organic food and advocated for better treatment of cows, saying, “Mandirs should take the opportunity to have relationships with local organic farms and educate the community on treatment of cows.”
There was a special emphasis on the role of priests at the conference. Pt. Murali Bhattar, the chief priest from Minnesota Hindu Temple, wowed the audience with his techno-savvy presentation and live demo of Vedic chants from his iPad. Pt. Ram Hardowar, Surya Narayan Mandir, NY, stressed that the priests should not be viewed as merely religious leaders but as community leaders. He also announced his temple as the host of the 2013 Hindu Mandir Priest’s Conference.
Swami Vidyadhishananda, from the Self Enquiry Life Fellowship, presented ten years of research that led to collection and preservation of spectacular, extremely rare pictures of pauranic mandirs. The presentation was unique because it connected the temples to the puranas and ancient Hindu history. Stephan Knapp urged the executives to envision temple’s “content architecture” beyond “empty rituals” and cited his newly published book “Spreading Vedic Traditions Through Temples” as a reference handbook for this process.
Members from Coalition of Hindu Youth (CHY www.twitter.com/chynetwork<http://www.twitter.com/chynetwork>😉 and CHERISH (Fremont Temple Hindu Youth group) played a prominent role in organizing the conference. The youth session’s topic was “Igniting the flame within – redefining the Hindu-American youth identity”. This session comprised of three portions: Q&A with Sadhvi Bhagawati, a break-out discussion session, and a creative hour done by the local youth. During this time the youth discussed what it meant to be Hindu AND American and how others see us and our identities. “We have an identity. We are 100% Hindu and 100% American. They are not mutually exclusive.” This successful youth session ended with group summaries of what it means to maintain our combined identity, and a presentation of each group’s discussion and resolutions. The California youth then showcased the different activities and insights of their mandir youth group.
Mihir Meghani of Hindu American Foundation urged the temples to involve the younger generation in the leadership positions in temples and Hindu organizations. Meghani charged the temples to become “centers of activism, not just centers of rituals.” Swami Vidyadhishananda drew applause when he told the mandir executives that the, “Youth participation in mandirs should go beyond ‘organizing the shoes’ – a deeper involvement is needed.” Youth representative and graduate student in Sanskrit, Varun Khanna, explained how Sanskrit language and Samskriti (culture) are inseparable.
The Seventh HMEC presented an excellent opportunity for Hindu community leaders to present their activities and thoughts advocacy of issues pertinent to the Hindu community.
Dr. Rahul Jindal of Walter Reed Hospital spoke of the success of HMEC blood donation drive in which 77 temples participated, whereas, a booth at the conference enrolled bone marrow donors. Other featured Seva (Service) projects included Support-a-Child (SAC), SNSOS and Ekal Vidyalaya. Ajay Shah, representing American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD) spoke about the defamation and denigration of Hindu culture, customs, symbols and images in mass media and art. Speaking of Hindu hate group Dot-busters, Shah said, “We are going to connect the dots, but we’re going to connect them in such a way that they spell ‘Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitaha (those who protect dharma are protected by it).”
The very first, born and practicing Hindu, contesting to be member of US Congress, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, shared her inspirational life story and received a standing ovation. Gabbard said that, “I am looking forward to taking the oath of office on the Bhagavad Geeta.” Community activism is not merely limited to political advocacy.
Publications and Announcement
Paramacharya Palainiswami announced availability of the booklet, “Visiting Hindu Temple – A Beginner’s Guide” at the conference. HMEC announced publication and availability of “The Hindu Prayer Book – For Patients, Caregivers, and Chaplains.” This book will fulfill a unique void and help hospital counselors and families in grief. Recognizing the importance of Hindu Chaplains in the community, HAF and HMEC seek to formalize the education of Hindu Chaplains via a newly announced initiative called Hindu American Chaplaincy Program. Sanatana Dharma National Scholarship was announced at the conference. This scholarship will be awarded to students ranging from elementary school to college. The next volume of Samskar book is planned to be released in 2013.
The seventh HMEC unanimously passed the following 4 resolutions:
1. Expressing condolence for the victims and the families of attack on the Sikh Gurudwara in Wisconsin.
2. Condemning the persecution of Hindus in Northeastern India, especially Assam due to the demographic change in the Assam population resulting from illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
3. Urging the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the condition of Hindu temples and forcible abduction and conversion of Hindus in Pakistan.
4. Expressing support for the purification of Yamuna River in India – a river considered holy by Hindus that is now infused with sewage.
HMEC Initiative Updates
Sanjay Mehta, Jt. General Secretary of VHPA, updated the participants on the ongoing HMEC projects and announced upcoming activities. Hindu Women’s Network, the Bal Vihar Network and Hindu Mandir Priest’s Network all held their conferences this year. HAVAN, a network of Hindu retirees, announced upcoming conferences at the Cincinnati Hindu Temple and Shakti Mandir of Atlanta.
The concluding program started with a special candle light tribute the victims of violence at the Sikh Gurudwara in Wisconsin. Gurudwaras from the Bay Area participated in the concluding program and addressed the audience. The cultural program depicting Hindu spiritual dances and a skit on the Hindu life enthralled the audience. Dr. Romesh Japra, convener of the seventh HMEC, thanked the Mandir Executives for their participation. The HMEC concluded with a special invitation by Shree Ashok Singhal, Patron and Past President of VHP Global, to the Mandir Executive to participate in the Kumbha Mela, the largest Hindu gathering to be held in Prayag in 2013. Dr. Nachiketa Tiwari invited everyone for 2014 World Hindu Congress in Delhi. For the very first time there was LIVE Broadcast of the entire youth session and HMEC closing session on the CHY website www.chynetwork.org<outbind://228/www.chynetwork.org> with many unique viewers who were able to enjoy the conference remotely.
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HMEC & VHPA
The vision of HMEC is to be the network of Hindu Organizations for effective leadership generation to generation In North America. Representatives from Hindu temples meet to deliberate and solve issues collectively. This conference provides a great opportunity to all of us to learn from each other and ultimately grow as one community. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) of America (VHPA), founded in 1970 and incorporated in the state of New York in 1974, is an independent, nonprofit, tax- exempt and volunteer-based charitable organization serving the needs of Hindu community in USA. It aims to build a dynamic and vibrant Hindu society rooted in the eternal values of Dharma and inspired by the lofty ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, i.e. the entire creation is one family. For more information on VHPA, please write to email@example.com or visitwww.vhp-america.org
Sanatan Dharma Scholarship Winners Tejas Dave, Shivam Dave with Sarirka Persaud (Devotee of Shri Surya Narayan Mandir) and Gyan Mehta